It’s been years since my last post and I feel bad for abandoning this blog. First things first, I am doing well and recently started my 3rd year of residency – PGY3! I am grateful to God, my wonderful wife and family for the support they have given me during this journey!
I guess life is what you make of it. I remember my psychiatrist telling me I can be whoever I want to be and I should not let bipolar restrict my ambitions and specialty choice. Fast forward to now, I passed all my USMLE medical licensing Exams, completed a surgical intern year and survived, and am now in a competitive specialty that I wanted to be in.
I did not intend to make this a long post, but rather a re-introduction. I guess I am now somewhat of a veteran in this personal fight against bipolar. My hope is that at least one person out there will benefit from our shared struggle to have the best lives possible.
I suppose this is the part where I say – I AM BACK!
I got released from the hospital a little early today than usual and thought I write a short note.
I must say, although my surgery rotation has been intense, it has been the most fulfilling experience and a great privilege. I think no where in life would I have had an opportunity to see the most sacred parts that make up human life. Patients entrust us with their very lives and it’s quite surreal. No wonder some surgeons think they are god by diverting the course of nature in vivo.
I suppose I am being drawn to the allure of invincibility that comes with being a surgeon even though I know I wouldn’t want to have the sleep-deprived lifestyle. Anyway, at least I get to play that role for a few weeks 🙂
I just thought I encourage myself today after having to wake up very early in the morning for the past 3months to pre-round on my patients and then coming home late after reading about that day’s encounters, and Oh! not forgetting, preparing for the following day’s presentations. I often feel overworked on top of being sleep-deprived. When I add the fact that I am constantly being judged and evaluated by residents and attendings alike, what I get is a concoction of discouragement and self-doubt. With all this going on, I often find myself questioning why I am a med-student and not working a 9-5 job or having a life like most of my high school friends.
However, I guess it is sometimes easy to focus on the small details of life, and not on the big picture of the journey. I have now come to realize that it is when we take some time to stop, pause, and reflect, on the good things in our lives that we find the strength to face tomorrow. Even though life is tough at the moment, I still feel privileged to be taking care of patients at the most vulnerable moments of their lives. I am made to remember the times when I helped deliver a couple’s first child or when I assisted a surgeon in removing a 36yo mother’s disabling uterine fibroids, or that time when I provided an assessment and plan for the child with leg swelling and saw him get well and walk after a few days. I thought I remind myself this since every dark cloud has a silver lining and we should always try to hold on to that lining…
It has been a long time since I have updated this blog! I definitely blame that on school; not that it’s any better now that I am in 3rd year, but just because it tends to suck all the energy out of me.
Other than that, things have been going great so far. I did really well on my first medical licensing exam (USMLE Step 1), got a 240+ — YAY!!!. For those who are unfamiliar with the med school shebang, basically we have to write 3 licensing exams but it is the 1st one that medical residency programs place the most emphasis on. Not all medical residency specialties are created equal; some like dermatology and plastic surgery have cut-offs below which they tend to give automatic rejections, whereas others like family medicine tend to be very lenient. The US national average score for step 1 is around 227 but different specialties have different averages for the match . For instance applicants who match in the R.O.A.D specialties (Radiology, Ophthalmology, Anesthesiology, Dermatology) tend to have scores around 240+ and those for say, psychiatry tend to have scores around 220, internal medicine – 226 etc.
In many ways, when I came back to med school after getting my bipolar diagnosis, I wasn’t sure what was possible and what wasn’t. Having been hospitalized for a broken mind, I feared that it could not be fixed or reusable. However, although I sometimes get discouraged and wonder what kind of doctor I am going to become because of my past mental health experiences, I have come to appreciate the power and resilience of the human spirit in light of its quest to achieve sanity and normalcy. I can say, at least for now, that the fight goes on and I am enjoying the journey I am traveling…
I am definitely grateful to my fiancee and family who continue to believe in me, because, really, only God knows where I would have been without them. Anyway, I hope to regularly update from now on….
Today has been one of those days when I take some time to reflect upon life and what’s most important. In particular, I was thinking about where I have come from and all it has taken me to be where I am. Surely, the road has been a rough one, but I am glad it’s been getting better and better.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I was quite anxious about going back to interview patients at the same psych hospital where I had been admitted. As part of my class requirement, we have to interview patients in the locked inpatient unit and then write a report. A few days ago we went to the hospital and, lo and behold, my patient had been admitted for his first episode of mania/paranoia/psychosis. Of course omitting most of the details on purpose, he was only in his early twenties, was living his life in peace until all of a sudden the monster struck.
It was hard seeing someone struggle to make sense of what was going on in his life, just like I had done. The bizarre internal voices tormenting him, the feeling of being watched and followed, and the insight that he could be going insane all made me sad about how mental illness is like a prison to those it afflicts.
To some extent, seeing my patient going through his episode mostly reminded me of where I have come from in my own journey with bipolar disorder. Although it has been a struggle to reconcile my disorder and my Christian faith, each day I am made to appreciate the fact that some of us have to carry our own crosses while living with thorns in our flesh. I wish this hadn’t been the case for me, but I guess according to a sermon I once heard, the severity of one’s trials determines the magnitude of one’s testimony. I hope it will all works out for both my patient and I.
It’s been a little over a month since I have posted anything. I blame it on med-school! I know I should at least try to find time to write and keep up.
So, what has been going on? We recently started two interesting courses, Neuro-anatomy and Psychiatry. Neuro-anatomy has been quite a thrill because I had never taken a class on the brain before. It has helped me appreciate how complex the brain is and how amazing science has been at eluding the functions of it components. A part of me has already started drifting towards the ambition of becoming a neurologist when I graduate. Maybe that’s rushing it since I haven’t even done any medical rotations as yet, but who ever died of wishful thinking?
The hard part this semester, however, is the fact that in a few days I will be going on my first site visit as part of my Psychiatry class requirement. Basically, every other week we get to go to a locked psych inpatient unit and interview patients with the goal of learning how to document their illness(es), diagnose and come up with appropriate treatment plans. Although I have a major psych diagnosis myself, I am not too much bothered by the fact that I will be meeting others of my kind. However, there is a slight problem: it turns out that the hospital that I have been assigned to for my site visits is the same one where I was admitted as an inpatient over a year and a half ago. How random is that! I don’t quite know how to make of it because it hits too close to home for me as it reminds me of everything that happened when I was manic that I would rather not want to remember. Anyway, such is life and I guess I just have to ‘deal with it’.
So, wish me luck!
It has been a while since I have posted anything, but now I am back! I was M.I.A as I spent the past couple of months volunteering in a maternity ward at a hospital in Africa. I must say it was one of the best experiences I have ever had! Maybe more on this in posts to come…
Like most people with a working support unit, I was initially afraid of leaving the US for an extended period of time since it meant not seeing my psychiatrist and therapist for a while. I was quite afraid of the irregular sleep cycles that come with jet lag because I am one of those people who are particularly sensitive. However, I am glad that it all worked out and I managed to stay healthy and mentally sound. Now I am back in school and have started my second year (which contains the yucky Step 1 board exams) but I am ready to kick their butt.
Anyway, I suppose the main lesson I got when I was abroad was that I should not let my condition prevent me from pursuing my dreams. Life is hard for most people in this world (especially in the region where I was), and there are people with worse conditions than bipolar who still manage to live their lives to the fullest. Although I still have the fear that all my efforts may amount to nothing if I end up not being able to practice medicine (G-d forbid!), I feel I should still give life the best shot I have…
I was reading a book called This Fragile Life: A Mother’s Story of a Bipolar Son written by an African-American Vanderbilt professor whose son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder close to two decades ago. The son had graduated from an Ivy League college and was pursuing his graduate degree when bipolar hit. Unfortunately, it was one of the saddest memoirs I have read. It was well written and captivating but the message was that the son never really recovered, and he brought a lot of pain to the family. In some ways, the book reminded me of the time when I was diagnosed during my second semester in medical school and made me appreciate the hurt that my family and loved ones experienced. At that time, knowing how tough it was to get into med-school, I had become an epitome of success to them, only to burn and have the dream almost evaporate as if it never existed.
However, I am glad with how things are turning out for me so far. I just finished my first year of med school and I am happy to report that I did well in all my exams. The beginning of the semester was quite a trial because coming back I wasn’t sure how my once-broken mind would process the torrents of information that come with med-school. However, through it all, I now appreciate that I am by most standards as competent a student as any other. I now know that it is not the illness that defines me, and that with the right support (and medication) I can work hard in school and make it.
Although some people with bipolar disorder often miss what they were before being diagnosed, I think I am just not one of them. I am definitely better now compared to the time before I was diagnosed. Even though I have my ups and downs, I now appreciate each day and take life into perspective. I now have more clarity of thought and am no longer too ambitious about ‘changing the world’!. I guess recovery is possible, as long as we don’t deny our need for help and give the best we can in all the endeavors we undertake…Just my two cents.
It is official! I am done with my first year of med school! Reflecting on this past year, I think I have done pretty well in terms of my recovery. I have learned a lot about myself in the context of this disorder; I now know that I can still study and excel at school and do well in general. It’s a good feeling.
I am very grateful for my fiancée who has stuck by me from the time of my diagnosis to my reintegration back in school and now to my first milestone in this journey. I really don’t know what I would have done if it hadn’t been for her love and belief in my recovery. I am also grateful to have a school administration that believes in me and really wants me to succeed. I remember during the time when I was on medical leave, one of the deans would periodically call me to hear how I was doing and was really my champion in representing me to the entire admin and ensure that I would be able to come back. I feel humbled by the support I have received because having people believe in me has played a big part in my recovery.
On another note, unlike the other upcoming years in med school, after our first year we get a couple of months off. I am very excited for my summer break because I will be traveling to Africa to do a project on maternal and child health where I will be helping evaluate a program that teaches nurses to perform basic obstetrics procedures in emergency care situations. Although I am still early in my medical career and don’t really know much ‘real’ medicine, the idea of going to a different country to make a difference in the lives of other people just brings joy to my heart. More on this later, hopefully…
However, finishing first year also means I will be starting second year in a few months. I have heard that second year is like school on steroids: tones of info on top of having to study for and take the most important licensing board exam (USMLE Step 1) that determines the residency and speciality you have a shot at. I guess that another story, but I am definitely looking forward to the challenge. Wish me all the best!
As one of my medical school’s traditions, at the end of a course our professors either bring us food or take us to dinner. This past week we concluded two courses, so we went out for dinner twice with our professors. Unlike the other times where we just talk about random stuff, my classmates pressured our professor (a psychiatrist) into predicting what our future specialities will be. (This is again another tradition, but one that happens at the end of an academic year). After much pressuring, my professor agreed to read into his crystal ball and tell us what we might become.
One of my classmates has served in the military in Afghanistan (we have several veterans in my class), and he was predicted to become a trauma surgeon. I thought the same. Several were predicted to be big research wigs, others pediatrics and surgeons and so on. However when it came to my turn, he, without hesitation said…I would become a psychiatrist! I was the only one who got that. I kind of saw it coming since we previously had conversations about my interest in the field and how I tended to display a lot of knowledge on psychiatric disorders even though they were seldom relevant to the course. However, for some reason, I took it with an element of shame. It kind of reminded me about the field, which though I have direct contact with, I really do not want to have too much contact with. It kind of made me feel like I am bound to be in a psychiatric hospital, hopefully not as a patient, but as the physician. Either way, a big part of me does NOT want to become a psychiatrist.
I say this because although I have already ruled out several specialities like surgery because of the crazy hours, I want to be able to go to a work where I am not always reminded of my diagnosis. Some might say that by becoming a psychiatrist, I will be better able to empathize with my patients, but really, I prefer to separate my own issues from my occupation.
Since who knows what the future holds, maybe it’s just for now that I am saying this? I don’t know…